Charlie Brooker brings three more harrowing visions of a tech-engrossed world to Channel 4 screens – read on for a brief (and spoiler-heavy) recap along with my thoughts on each.
It’s the mark of a great writer that each of the six scenarios posited in Black Mirror to date are cleverly set up with the requisite twists and turns of a cautionary tale of tech; but for me each has fallen flat because the story development often gets swapped out after a while for some lazy and panicked heavy-handed message pushing.
Series two opened with Be Right Back and a unique take on the afterlife, in which a bereaved woman – having fallen pregnant by her late partner – decides to use the technology at her disposal to communicate with a simulated version of him – by online chat, by phone and – eventually (spoilers) – by replicating his personality into a synthetic body. It turns out, through perfunctory intercourse and only having his online personality to refer to, that it just isn’t the man she loved. (Duh.) Twenty minutes of heavy-handed hinting later, and we’re left with what I have to say is a rather huge cop out of an ending.
White Bear plunged us deep into an apocalyptic scenario where you don’t know who to trust – not even yourself. It proves to be the case when our heroine emerges as a convicted accessory to a child’s murder – and is punished by living again and again through a hellish experience of running for her life while people stand by, filming her on their camera-phones. Poetic justice it may be, but wiping her memory each time before reliving it – and for the public’s own entertainment? I feel like the whole voyeurism angle was a huge, huge misfire here.
Just like last year, my favourite of the three came last in the run – which rather grates me that I had to sit through two which I didn’t like at all in the first place, on both occasions.
Based on a concept that would’ve been used in Brooker’s sitcom Nathan Barley if the budget had allowed for it (no, really; Barley co-creator Chris Morris gets a credit at the end), The Waldo Moment is a nice play on the theories of authority – Groucho Marx wouldn’t have joined any club that would have had him as a member, so why should you vote for a popular foul-mouthed animated bear to be your MP? Again though, it’s a bit heavy-handed, and the closing sequence depicting a dystopian future where Waldo is depicted as a world-famous mascot while his creator is beaten by fascistic policemen on the streets where he’s been forced to live? I found this to be completely illogical given the story’s ending in which Waldo lost the election, not won.
My main problem with the Black Mirror strand as a whole is not the concession that any of this couldn’t possibly happen. As it’s science fiction, you can easily suspend your disbelief for an hour at a time. But once you switch it off, it’s supposed to stay off for the duration. It just doesn’t quite gel. Not quite. Brooker has an eye for dialogue and can set up some brilliant concepts but, as a screenwriter, he asks too much of the audience and doesn’t quite deliver for me in the end.
TL;DR – Black Mirror has always had some interesting ideas to explore, and with Charlie Brooker overseeing a usually strong cast, it can often entertain but, for me, never hits the mark for addressing the ideas and themes, often guilty of copping out for the short-term win.